How to Be Light


The EU-funded project RAMSSES is aiming to accelerate the adoption of lightweight composite materials in shipbuilding. Matthias Krause and Dr Frank Roland from the Center of Maritime Technologies review progress and next steps.

On October 10 and 11 the consortium behind the new European innovation project Realisation and Demonstration of Advanced Material Solutions for Sustainable and Efficient Ships (RAMSSES) and the European network for lightweight applications at sea (E-LASS) met in Croatia for the first in a series of joint public conferences. The event was provided a unique opportunity to bring together stakeholders and to discuss the latest successes from research and innovation on novel materials in maritime applications, as well as to develop ideas on how to meet existing challenges.

Based on impressions from the conference, this article gives insight on these stories and challenges. It also aims to inform the wider shipping audience about the work of E-LASS and RAMSSES in general, and identifies areas for potential coopoeration.


The workshop started with technical visits to two shipyards belonging to the Uljanik Group: the Uljanik shipyard in Pula and 3 Maj in Rijeka. It was soon obvious why these venues had been selected. Uljanik is a renowned producer of ro-ro vessels and car carriers, being involved in joint research and innovation projects for many years, with a focus on lightweight structures.

As an example, standardised composite panels for car carriers were developed in the joint research project DE-LIGHT Transport (part of the EU’s seventh framework programme). By replacing conventional steel decks with the novel solution, Uljanik yielded considerable weight savings for their products. Even more important, thanks to a well-thought assembly concept, an enormous reduction of slipway lead time was achieved. This concept is now widely applied on Uljanik-built ships.

Uljanik can serve as a prime example of how highly innovative shipbuilders with a very hands-on approach can quickly and successfully turn research results into commercial products. The shipyard has recently delivered the first car carrier in the world using a composite structure for its cargo deck – Siem Car Carriers’ Siem Cicero.

The achievements of the Croatian shipbuilders did not come from nowhere, and they were not working on their own. Teaming up with universities, material and technology providers, classification societies and research organisations with broad networks to connect major stakeholders was the key to success. A group of actors, organised in a joint Swedish national research project, felt the need to establish a standing network for exchange of information and initiation of collaboration, and founded E-LASS. The idea has grown into an impressive forum with some 240 members, including all kinds of groups with an interest in lightweight innovation in the maritime industry.

Coordinated by the Research Institute of Sweden (RISE) in Borås, E-LASS organises annual workshops with technical visits, presentations on latest developments and lively discussions. Among others, the latest workshop in Pula included presentations on the application of composite structures in tween decks of bulk carriers and on inland waterway passenger ships, as well as opportu-nities for new materials like basalt fibres. The presentations can be downloaded from the E-LASS website (


Besides telling each other what has been achieved with lightweight structures, it is at least as im-portant to exchange ideas on how to improve further. One big topic in E-LASS is the current approval process of novel structures. Due to the lack of prescriptive rules, a lengthy risk-based design approach usually has to be undergone, involving lots of reviews and tests with the aim of proving that a safety level equivalent to conventional structures is ensured. Most often, approval for using a novel technology is given for a single application or a limited range only. These conditions have often acted as a barrier towards lightweight innovation in commercial shipbuilding.

In order to overcome those obstacles, more than 30 E-LASS members have joined the new EU project RAMSSES which is coordinated by Italian naval research and consultancy agency CETENA. The objectives pursued are both practical and strategic. On the practical side, 13 shipyards and suppliers are developing and building demonstrators that show the versatility of lightweight technology, both in terms of material types and application areas.

The demonstrator cases are:

  • Panel system (truss structure): lightweight fire-resistant and bio-composite panels. (Project leader: Baltico, Germany)
  • Panel system (bio-based and other): lightweight components for high loads and fire class. (Podcomp, Sweden)
  • Additive manufacturing: 3D-printed propeller blade. (Naval Group, France)
  • Composite rudder flap. (Becker Marine Systems, Germany)
  • Versatile walls: Integration of system for internal walls and superstructure of cruise ships in-to shipyard processes. (Meyer Werft, Germany)
  • Non-metallic modular decks for ro-ro vessels. (Uljanik Shipyard, Croatia)
  • Lightweight aluminium and composite panels for workboats. (MEC, Estonia)
  • Superstructure module on a steel deck of multi-purpose vessels (multi-material – compo-site/steel). (Naval Group, France)
  • Non-metallic custom-made hull of an offshore vessel. (Damen Schelde Naval, The Nether-lands)
  • Cabin system: fully outfitted and modularised lightweight cabin area for passenger ships. (STX, France)
  • Steel design – highly loaded structural details from high-tensile low-alloy steels for cruise and research vessels. (Fincantieri, Italy)
  • Lightweight decks of high tensile steel in cruise ships. (Meyer Turku, Finland)
  • Patch repair: composite overlay to repair and improve metallic and non-metallic structures. (Cardama, Spain).

All demonstration cases will be thoroughly assessed, ensuring future acceptance by classification societies and customers. To fulfil an indispensable prerequisite for economic success, RAMSSES Life Cycle Performance assessment studies for all cases will also discuss strategies for smooth integration with shipyard processes and proper connection of novel structures with conventional ones.

The strategic aspect of RAMSSES is targeting at a ‘fast track to approval’ for the future – an amb-tious goal which requires a wide range of sound measures. RAMSSES will develop a common knowledge base: results of technical tests, for instance in the form of statistical process models, will serve as reference points for future development of new solutions. Standardised risk scenarios will help to make the design review easier and faster.


RAMSSES and E-LASS will further intensify their collaboration: Two public events per year are on the agenda, among others including updates on the progress of RAMSSES demo cases, and workshops on technology transfer from sectors other than maritime. Furthermore, a maritime advisory group for ship owners will be established, enhancing the exchange of ideas with technology end users.

Matthias Krause, technical manager of the RAMSSES project from Center of Maritime Technologies, summarises: “Recently the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has issued interim guidelines for use of fibre-reinforced polymer (FRP) elements, which will be reviewed within four years after approval, based on experience gained in their use. This is a great chance which must not be missed. Now the maritime industry must come with a concerted initiative towards acknowledged flexible rules for innovative materials. The timing of RAMSSES could not be better. This, along with the strong partnership with the E-LASS network and the successful workshop in Pula, is encouraging news.”

The RAMSSES project has received funding under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under a grant agreement (No 723246). Partners in the project are: Cetena, CMT, Balance, Naval Group, Bureau Veritas, Damen Schelde, Meyer Werft, Meyer Turku, Baltico, Podcomp, Uljanik, MEC, STX France, Baltic Workboats, Airborne, Netcomposites, Swerea Sicomp, Rise, Fraunhofer IFAM, L’Institut de Recherche Technologique Jules Verne, TNO, ENSTA, ECN, Aalto, NTUA, Fincantieri, Infracore, Galventus, Cardama, NMTF, Evonik, Becker Marine Systems, Damen Gorinchem, OCS, Hutchinson and AIMEN.

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Source: The Motorship


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